Skip to main content
Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World
This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in
the world by JSTOR.
Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries.
We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial
Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-
JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please
THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY 253
THE GREAT SEALS OF GEORGIA; THEIR ORIGIN
BT HENRY R. GOETCHIUS.
For a long time little was known of the origin and mean-
ing of those important symbols of state sovereignty. In
1894 Prof. Ashmore of Savannah, who is Corresponding Sec-
retary of the Georgia Historical Society, prepared and pub-
lished a fairly full history of the five great seals of Georgia.
In 1912 Governor Joseph M. Brown, who is a student
of history, and especially of matters pertaining to Georgia
history, gave to the Atlanta Constitution an exceedingly in-
teresting story of the first great seal of Georgia. Neither
Prof. Ashmore nor Governor Brown makes reference to the
difference in the great seal and the executive seal. The
great seals are described in full by both writers.
The law provides that the great seal shall be kept by
the Secretary of State, and it is his duty to attach the same
to all grants and to certified copies and transcripts of public
documents in his office when so ordered by the Governor or
the General Assembly.
The executive seal is kept in the office of the Governor.
It differs in form from the great seal, being designed only
in part like the original seal as adopted by the state in 1799.
The device is an ordinary seal having the column from the
great seal on which is the legend, "Moderation." The soldier
with the drawn sword appears by the column and there also
appears the escutcheon of the United States, the shield and
eagle. The executive seal is used and attached by the Gov-
ernor to commissions which he issues and other current pa-
pers and orders on which the stamp of his official authority
is required to be placed.
It will be noticed that Prof. Ashmore relates how Gov-
ernor Jenkins saved the executive seal of the State in 1868.
He fails to relate the equally interesting story of how Col.
N. C. Barnett, deceased, who was Secretary of State for near-
ly half a century and preceded Gen. Phil Cook, father of the
present Secretary, Phil Cook, prompted by equally
as great patriotism, saved from corrupt republican hands
the great seal of Georgia.
Here is that story :
254 THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Colonel Barnett, being Secretary at the time of Sher-
man's invasion, of course, the great seal was in his keeping.
He determined to save it at all hazards, and preferred to take
the responsibility upon himself. However, being afraid
that the Yankees might kill him, he wished someone else to
know where it was, so he secretly carried it home and gave
it to his wife. She placed it in a tin box and buried it un-
der her house. When Sherman reached our capital, which
was then Milledgeville, he had the Secretary of State ar-
rested and commanded him to give up the great seal of state.
This Colonel Barnett refused to do, saying that he would
die first. They put him in prison, but were never able to ex-
tort any information as to the hiding place of Georgia's
treasure. It is considered remarkable that they did not
torture him to force his secret, but it is supposed that his
brave spirit and dauntless bearing over-awed them, for he
was one of nature's noblemen, physically and mentally, and
no fear of death or suffering had power to make him quail.
After Sherman laid Georgia to the sword and torch, the
Republicans took charge of the state government. Bullock
was their Governor, and they needed a state seal with which
to authorize their fraudulent acts and papers. So they had
one made by description as near like the original as they
could get it. Now, a strange thing came to pass. This re-
construction seal of the reconstruction period bore upon its
obverse face the bar sinister, for the soldier standing between
the pillars of "Justice" and "Moderation" held his sword in
his left hand instead of in his right, as upon the original.
The irony of fate marked that bogus seal and stamped fraud
upon its face.
In 1910 the Secretary of State reported to the General As-
sembly that the great seal of Georgia was so worn by long
use that it was practically of no service, and it was found on
investigation that as far back as 1868 the General Assembly
had ordered that the great seal be re-engraved and renewed.
Nothing was done with this action of the General Assembly
because of want of an appropriation, but in 1914 the General
Assembly adopted a resolution authorizing a new seal, to be
prepared as an exact copy of the old one in every respect ex-
cept that the year "1776" was substituted for 1799. An ap-
propriation was made under this resolution and the present
great seal of Georgia is a facsimile of the one described by
Prof. Ashmore and later by Governor Brown, except that
the year 1776 stands in place of 1799, as on the old seal.
The following is the sketch of the great seals given in
1894 by Prof. Ashmore :
THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY 255
Great Seals of Georgia — Five of Them Marking Five Epochs
of Her History.
The Colonial Seal the First — A Description of It — The
Royal Seal, the Larger and More Beautiful. The Revolu-
tionary Seal — The Seal of 1799. The Confederate Seal —
Some Interesting Facts Concerning It.
Some recent official duties connected with the Georgia
Historical Society having called my attention to the great
seals of our State, I have thought that a brief history of them
might not prove uninteresting to the public. It is a matter
of much surprise to find so few of our people, even of our
public men, have much accurate information about these
seals, and, what is worse, our State histories, which should
be the conservators of historic truth, contain some glaring
errors concerning them. The great seal of a state symbol-
izes its highest authority, and being used as an attestation
upon only the most important public documents, it is nat-
urally invested with a sacred sentiment of inviolable honor
and moral obligation.
Georgia has had in all five great seals, corresponding
to five great epochs in her history. The first, which may be
called the Colonial seal, was adopted by the trustees about
the middle of July, 1732, when the charter was obtained
from the crown of England for colonizing Georgia. It was
brought over by Oglethorpe in 1733 and used until 1734.
This seal was formed with two faces, one for legisla-
tive acts, deeds and commissions, and the other, the common
seal, for grants, orders, certificates, etc. The device on the
one was two figures resting upon urns, representing the riv-
ers Savannah and Altamaha, the north-western and south-
eastern boundaries of the province, between which the
genius of the colony was seated with a cap of liberty on her
head, a spear in one hand and a cornucopia in the other, with
the inscription "Colonia Georgia, Aug." On the other face
was the representation of silk worms, some beginning and
others completing their labors, which was characterized by
the motto, "Non Sibi, Sed Aliis." This inscription not only
proclaimed the disinterested motives and intentions of the
trustees, but suggested that the production of silk was to be
reckoned among the most profitable employments of the
The side of the first seal described was adopted as the
seal of the Georgia Historical Society with only a change in
the inscription. The inscription "Colonia Georgia, Aug,"
was replaced by the motto on the other side, "Non Sibi, Sed
256 THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Aliis," and the words "Georgia Historical Society" were ad-
ded. It is a matter of much regret that no picture or im-
pression of that side of this seal containing the silk worms
is known to exist, though persons now living remember to
have seen impressions of it upon old land grants. There are
doubtless among the papers of some of our old families cop-
ies of this old seal, but long and diligent inquiry has failed,
so far, to discover one of them. The writer would be glad
to communicate with anyone who may have one of these
old seals in his possession. For the sake of Georgia history,
it should be rescued from oblivion.*
The Royal Seal.
In 1752 the trustees surrendered their charter to the
crown, and Georgia became a royal province. On June 21,
1754, a new seal was adopted by the Lords Commissioners
of Trade and Plantations, and approved by the king, George
II. This, which may be termed the royal seal, was the
largest and the most beautiful of all the seals which Georgia
has ever had. It was 4}^ inches in diameter and made of
silver. It was of equal size with those sent to North and
South Carolina, and similar in some respects to them. On
one face was a figure representing the genius of the colony
offering a skein of silk to his majesty, with the motto "Hinc
Laudam Sperate Coloni," and this inscription around the cir-
cumference, "Sigillum Provinciae Nostrae Georgiae in
America." On the other side appeared his majesty's arms,
crown, garter, supports and motto, with the inscription
"Georgius II., Dei Gratia Magnae Britanniae Franciae et
Hiberniae Rex, Fidei Defensor, Brunsvici et Luneburgi,
Dux, Sacri Romani Imperii Archi Thesaurarius et Princeps
The designs upon this seal were strikingly appropriate,
and the workmanship and finish were executed with exquis-
ite taste. It is a matter of some surprise that no print or en-
graving of this seal has ever been made, indeed no writer
upon Georgia history seems ever to have had access to an im-
pression of it, though a brief and imperfect description of it
may be found in most of our state histories.
A few weeks ago the writer, with a desire to rescue, if
possible, this historic relic from oblivion, made a systematic
search for it among the private papers and public documents
of the city of Savannah. The search was finally rewarded
by the discovery of the long lost seal among the papers of
•Since the statement above was first printed, copies have been
found, and all danger of total loss is averted.
THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY 257
Mr. William Neyle Habersham, of this city. This generous
gentleman has presented it to the Georgia Historical Society,
by whom it will be preserved as a curious historic relic of
Realizing the fact that no print or engraving of this
beautiful seal had ever been made, the writer had both sides
of it photographed, and from the photographs appropriate
engravings have been made in New York. These engrav-
ings, together with engravings of all the great seals of Geor-
gia from 1732 to 1894, appeared for the first time in
a new school history of Georgia by Superintendent Lawton
B. Evans, of Augusta.
The Revolutionary Seal.
The royal seal was used till 1777, when Georgia united
with her sister colonies in that great final struggle which
gained for us our independence and established Georgia as
a free and sovereign state. Upon the adoption of a new con-
stitution on February 5, 1777, the great seal was changed to
one of smaller size and less artistic in design.
On one side was a scroll, whereon was inscribed, "The
Constitution of the State of Georgia," and the motto "Pro
Bono Publico." On the other side appeared an elegant house
and other buildings, fields of corn and meadows covered
with sheep and cattle; a river running through the same,
with a ship under full sail and the motto, "Deus nobis haec
otia fecit." Wax impressions of this old seal may still be
found attached to old land grants made from 1777 to 1799.
Several very good ones are in possession of the Georgia His-
Seal of 1799.
In 1798 a constitutional convention was called and
among the changes made in the fundamental law of the State
was another change in the great seal, which was adopted
Feb. 8, 1799.
On one side of this seal was a view of the seashore, with
a ship bearing the flag of the United States, riding at anchor
near a wharf, receiving on board hogsheads of tobacco and
bales of cotton, emblematic of the exports of this state ; at a
small distance a boat landing from the interior of the state
with hogsheads, etc., on board, representing her internal
traffic ; in the back part of the same side, a man in the act of
ploughing, and at a small distance a flock of sheep in dif-
ferent pastures, shaded by a flourishing tree. The motto on
this side was "Agriculture and Commerce, 1799." The oth-
258 THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
er side contained three pillars supporting an arch with the
word "Constitution" engraved within the same, emblematic
of the constitution supported by three departments of the
government, viz: the legislative, judicial and executive; the
first had engraved in a wreath upon it, "Wisdom ;" the sec-
ond "Justice," and the third, "Moderation." On the right
of the last pillar was a man standing with a drawn sword,
representing the aid of the military in defense of the consti-
tution, and around the margin the motto "State of Georgia,
The words wisdom, justice and moderation were orig-
inally ordered to be placed upon the base of the pillars, but
the artists finding this impracticable, a subsequent act of the
legislature authorized them to be placed in the wreath.
The act directed that this seal be made of silver and the size
of two and one-quarter inches in diameter, and that the old
seal should be broken in the presence of the governor. This
was used as the great seal of the State for sixty-two consec-
utive years, until the secession convention of 1861 ordered
that the next legislature, which should assemble immediate-
ly after the rising of that body, should change the great seal
of the State.
The Confederate Seal.
Pursuant to this order the legislature, by an act ap-
proved December 14, 1861, appointed a commission consist-
ing of S. S. Stafford, G. N. Lester, B.H. Bigham and the Sec-
retary of State, "to prepare a new great seal for the State of
Georgia, and to make all necessary preparations and arrange-
ments to bring the same, as agreed on by the said commis-
sion, into use." Strangely enough the records concerning
the further use of this seal are almost completely silent.
There is not recorded in the acts of the subsequent legisla-
tures any report of that commission, though on Dec. 14, 1863,
the sum of $2,000, or so much of it as might be necessary,
was appropriated to pay the commissioners for preparing
the new seal.
There is no record, however, that the appropriation was
ever used. Unfortunately every member of the commission
is now dead and the details of their action cannot be ascer-
tained. It appears, however, from impressions of this seal
in the office of the Secretary of State, that it differed little
from the seal of 1799. The only changes were: First, the
date, 1861, was placed amid the brilliant rays of a new rising
sun under the arch of the constitution, evidently symboliz-
ing the birth of a new independence ; second, the man with
THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY 259
the drawn sword, representing the military in defense of the
constitution, was removed ; third, the date, 1799, at the bot-
tom, was replaced by the date, 1776, representing the birth
of our first independence.
Several of our state histories give this last date as 1779,
which is certainly wrong. I have before me a recent im-
pression of this seal furnished by the Secretary of State and
the date is clearly 1776. The proportions of the devices up-
on this seal were slightly different from those on the old
In 1865 the Confederate cause went down with the sur-
render of Lee on April 9th, and Georgia once more occupied
a new attitude to its constitution and to the new order of its
political affairs. And now comes the strangest part of the
history of the great seal of the State. The legislature of
1865-'66 passed an act approved Feb. 5, 1866, which reads
as follows: "That the seal prepared by the committee
under the act assented to on the fourteenth day of Decem-
ber, 1861, be and the same is hereby adopted as the seal of
the office of the Secretary of State."
So far as I have been able to ascertain, this is the only
act concerning the great seal of the State passed since the
war. Neither the acts of the legislatures since that time,
nor the journals of the constitutional conventions of 1865,
1868 and 1877, say one single word about ,the re-adoption
of the old seal of 1799, and yet all the codes since 1866 de-
scribe as the great seal of the State the old seal of 1799 which
was used up to 1861. It would appear that with the down-
fall of the Confederacy, the seal of 1799 was readopted with-
out enactment. It is certain at all events, that the present
seal is the old seal of 1799 and that it has been used ever
since 1872. It will be observed also that the old Confed-
erate seal was by the act of February 5, 1866, made the of-
ficial seal of the Secretary of State and it is today in use in
that office. It must be remembered that it is not the pres-
ent great seal of the State, which is also kept in the same of-
It is rather a curious fact that the old Confederate great
seal is still in force in the office of the Secretary of State, but
it is nevertheless true.
A Patriotic Incident.
In 1868 while Charles J. Jenkins was Governor, Georgia
was placed under military rule and our state government
passed into the unfriendly hands of that rapacious horde that
made the reconstruction period memorable. The country
260 THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
was overrun by carpet-baggers, scalawags and negroes, and
intelligence and political virtue were for a time to be at the
mercy of ignorance and bitter partisan misrule. Governor
Jenkins was forced to retire, and to deliver the government
into the hands of his military successor. But at this crisis
Governor Jenkins took the executive seal of the State, to-
gether with $400,000 of the people's money, carried them
north with him and locked them up in a vault for safe-keep-
ing. Here they remained until 1872, when Georgia's own
people once more obtained possession of the State govern-
ment and placed James M. Smith in the executive office. It
was then that the noble Jenkins in a speech of matchless elo-
quence and patriotism before the General Assembly re-
stored to Georgia the executive seal of the State and the
money, which he had for four dark years held as a sacred
trust for his people. For this patriotic act the General As-
sembly unanimously ordered that a facsimile of the executive
seal be made of gold, appropriately engraved and presented
to Governor Jenkins. A resolution of gratitude and thanks,
characterized by the loftiest sentiments of patriotism and
honor, was also extended him. The occasion of the return
of the executive seal of the State to her own people at this
time forms one of the most touching and memorable in-
cidents in the history of Georgia.
The golden facsimile of the seal presented to Governor
Jenkins and a beautiful framed copy of the resolutions are in
the possession of the Georgia Historical Society at Savan-
Thus it will be seen that the great seals of a state not
only mark the great epochs in its political history, but they
symbolize a nation's honor, and around them cluster the
sacred sentiments of a people's faith and patriotic devo-
"The following is Governor Brown's letter published in
1912 and addressed to the Atlanta Constitution :
"The enclosed advertisement was found in an old copy
of the Louisville Gazette, dated February 26, 1799, when
Louisville was the capital of Georgia. I secured several
copies of this old paper from a collector several years ago.
"I have never before known how the figures 1799 came
on the great seal of Georgia and nobody seemed to be able
to give any information as to when or by whom the great
seal was designed.
THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY 261
"I have copied it exactly as printed and punctuated and
suggest that you reproduce it without making any changes
"In the paper, the 's,' except when terminal, resembled 'f.'
"I send it to you as you carry the great seal at the head
of your editorial page."
How Advertisement Appeared.
"The advertisement in The Louisville Gazette, Feb-
ruary 26, 1799, is reproduced in all the quaintness of its dic-
ARTISTS OF ALL NATIONS ATTEND : PREMIUM
Executive Department of Georgia, Louisville, Feb. 23rd,
The Act, entitled "an act for altering the Great Seal
of the State of Georgia" passed the 8th day of February,
1799, being taken up and considered : It is
ORDERED, That a premium of thirteen . dollars be
given for the best drawing of the device for the great seal
of this state, in pursuance of the second section of the said
act — the device being as follows, towit :
"On the one side, a view of the seashore with a ship
bearing the flag of the United States, riding at anchor near
a wharf, receiving on board hogsheads of tobacco and bales
of cotton, emblematic of the exports of this state — at a small
distance a boat landing from the interior of the state, with
hogsheads, etc., on board, representing her internal traffic,
in the back part of the same side, a man in the act of plow-
ing and at a small distance a flock of sheep in different pas-
tures shaded by a flourishing tree, the motto on this side
agriculture and commerce, 1799 — that the other side contain
three pillars supporting an arch with the word constitution
engraved within the same, emblematic of the constitution
supported by the three departments of the government, viz :
the legislative, judicial and executive — the first pillar to
have engraven on its base wisdom, the second justice, and
the third moderation ; on the right of the last pillar a man
standing with a drawn sword representing the aid of the
military in defense of the constitution — the motto state of
Georgia 1799." Provided such drawing be lodged in the
executive office, at Louisville, on or before the twentieth
day of April next ; the size of the seal two inches and one-
quarter, and it is further
262 THE GEORGIA HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Ordered, that proposals be received at the same office
until the said twentieth day of April for forming, making
and engraving the same agreeably to such device and draw-
ing, in a masterly and workmanlike manner, on or before
the third day of July next. Bond and security to be given
for the due performance of the work, within the time limited
in the sum of two thousand dollars. The proposals will
be sealed up, addressed to the executive, and marked pro-
posals for forming, making and engraving the great seal of
the state of Georgia. The drawings will also be sealed up,
addressed in like manner and marked drawings for the de-
vice of the great seal and will be examined the twentieth
day of April aforesaid.
The cash will be paid for the drawing the moment it is
decided on as to the best design, and for the seal immediately
it is completed and delivered, if applied for.
Taken from the minutes.
Test. THOMAS JOHNSON,
The foregoing was found in The Louisville Gazette
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1799.
In the above newspaper, dated Tuesday, May 7, 1799,
is the following news item :
"We understand that the device approved of by the
governor for the great seal of this state was drawn by Mr.
Sturges, the state surveyor general. The best drawing sent
the executive department was performed by Mr. Chas.
Frazer, of South Carolina, and which we are assured would
have obtained the premium had he not through mistake
placed all the figures on one side instead of making a re-
verse. This young artist is but sixteen years old — his genius
is great and deserves encouragement. Several of the hand-
some performances were sent to the executive."
In still another issue of the same paper Governor Brown
completed his research for information about the great seal
by discovering the full name and title of the designer, "Dan-
iel Sturges, surveyor general," in a card announcing his
business. It is doubtful if another person in the state other
than Governor Brown knew the name of the designer, or
that it could have been found without months of labor in
searching old records, even if they are still legible and have
not been destroyed. Georgia history is, therefore, in debt
to him for this valuable information.